STARTING PITCHING and extra bases. That was the formula that the Phillies used in the first seven innings of last night's series opener against the Reds, and if they can repeat it on a basis more frequent than two or three times a week, all of you optimists will have plenty of reason to wiggle your fingers on your noses.
The pessimists? They had the top of the eighth. By the time it was over, though, everybody seemed to agree that the Phillies' 5-3 win over the Reds, which snapped Cincinnati's six-game winning streak, was a good way to spend the night.
This one played out, as they often do, in three acts. The first featured a starring performance from Cliff Lee, who held the Reds scoreless for five innings before finally allowing a two-run home run to Jay Bruce in the sixth. Lee also doubled off the wall in rightfield in the fifth, setting up what would prove to be an important RBI triple by Michael Young. At the time, it extended the Phillies' lead to 3-0, the first two runs having come on a home run by Jimmy Rollins in the third inning. That was his third of the season, and it was the Phillies' first multiple-run homer after 16 straight solo shots.
"Our park is a double, home runs ballpark. You've got to put up some runs in our yard," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
The second act proved to be the top of the eighth, a frame that for most of the season has caused little worry for manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. The Phillies entered the night having blown only one lead out of the 14 they had carried into eighth on the season. But veteran relief ace Mike Adams was unavailable for the fourth straight game because of a mild mid-back strain, which meant lefty Antonio Bastardo drew setup duty. The setup situation did not last long, as Reds star Joey Votto homered on a 1-0 fastball to tie the game at 3-3. Bastardo recorded one out and Justin De Fratus recorded two to preserve the tie.
And then came the bottom of the eighth.
The comeback effort that helped move them to 20-22 on the season is not likely to live a glorious existence in franchise lore. Young walked, and Ryan Howard hit a check-swing bleeder that dribbled along one of the few routes that would allow him enough time to leg out an infield single.
"It was a well placed lawn dart," Young said of Howard's hit. "But those are the things we're talking about - when you catch a break, you want to be able to capitalize. Usually when a team is going really well, when you catch a break, you capitalize on it."
Jonathan Broxton replaced Sean Marshall and did as Broxton tends to do when pitching at Citizens Bank Park. He hit Delmon Young with a pitch to load the bases, then allowed a chopper up the middle to Domonic Brown, which scored Michael Young from third and kept the bases loaded with one out when Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart were unable to complete a throw to second base for the forceout.
Howard scored on a close play at the plate on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Ruiz, and the Phillies delivered Jonathan Papelbon a lead, which he promptly protected for his 12th save in 12 opportunities.
Broxton entered the night having been charged with at least one run in six of his seven appearances at Citizens Bank Park. While his appearance last night did not qualify as a save opportunities, it is worth noting he has blown all five of those he has been presented with in Philadelphia.
Lee took a no-decision, striking out seven and walking two to go with the two runs he allowed in seven innings.
"We're playing better baseball, no doubt," Lee said. "I still feel like there are things we can improve on. But we're definitely playing better, no doubt."
De Fratus picked up the win and is now 2-0 on the season despite having faced only four batters.
Rollins went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt and is now 11-for-32 with three doubles, two homers, and two walks over his last eight games.
It was a big win for the Phillies, who were swept in a three-game series in Cincinnati in April. They have two games remaining to return the favor here at home.